Panama (Tier 2)
Panama is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. Women and children are trafficked primarily within Panama for sexual exploitation. There are also credible reports of women and children trafficked from Colombia and the Dominican Republic to and through Panama for sexual exploitation. Panamanian women have been trafficked from Panama to Jamaica, Guatemala, and Mexico. Child domestic laborers who may be trafficking victims are transported from the western provinces to Panama City.
The Government of Panama does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting year, the government intensified public awareness campaigns and stepped up efforts to work with NGOs to improve services for trafficking victims. The government made some progress in its efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, though there were no convictions reported during the reporting period. The government should allocate additional resources for law enforcement to receive training and more vigorously conduct trafficking investigations and prosecutions in the capital and other parts of the country. It should also ensure that foreign workers are informed of their rights and the services available to assist and protect trafficking victims.
The Government of Panama made some progress in investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes over the reporting period. New investigations of the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation increased from three in 2004 to seven in 2005. Panama's 2004 anti-trafficking law focuses on commercial sexual exploitation and assigns penalties of five to 10 years in prison. This law has not yet resulted in any trafficking convictions, but three prosecutors in the Attorney General's Office have been designated to handle trafficking cases and four cases have moved to various stages of prosecution. Eight Panamanian National Police officers in Darien Province remained under investigation subsequent to their arrest in March 2005 for rape, commercial sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors. The police anti-trafficking unit in the capital operated with a staff of three officers and inadequate resources. Police officers in other parts of the country had insufficient training to conduct trafficking investigations.
The Panamanian government made modest efforts to assist trafficking victims. Most services were concentrated in or near Panama City. Anti-trafficking laws require the government to provide legal, medical, and psychological services for victims. The government operated a police hotline for victims of crime and a Ministry of Social Development hotline for reporting abuse. A unit at police headquarters in Panama City provided medical, psychological, social, legal, and translation services to assist victims of crime. The government also referred victims to NGOs and provided limited financial support for NGOs working with at-risk children and victims of abuse and violence, including trafficking victims. The government operated shelters, but they were not designated for trafficking victims. Juvenile trafficking victims were placed with foster families or referred to a government or NGO shelter. Local businesses use the "alternadora" visa system to bring in mostly Colombian women for Panama's legalized sex trade. Panamanian authorities failed to confirm how many "alternadora" permits were issued or renewed or whether any applicants were interviewed to provide information to them about laws against trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation or to identify indications of trafficking. The National Migration Service contended that illegal migrants who were found in Panama's commercial sex trade were screened and determined not to be trafficking victims before they were deported. However, authorities were not able to confirm how many women were deported or how many of them were interviewed by officials trained to detect trafficking.
The government made additional progress in prevention activities during the reporting period. CONAPREDES, the anti-trafficking coordinating agency, launched a poster, radio, and television campaign against commercial sexual exploitation that included some warnings directed at adult males who seek commercial sex with minors. CONAPREDES also produced and distributed handouts on commercial sexual exploitation and worked with the National Council of Reporters to educate journalists about trafficking issues and enlist their support in raising public awareness.